MSPAINT Had Oblivion Access Moshing And Dancing With Elite Weirdo Shit
Last night, Oblivion Access kicked off its second-ever installment. Given it was Thursday, it was a smaller night leading up to the full multi-venue takeover of the weekend, but the festival still brought an enviable lineup: Spirit Of The Beehive, Narrow Head, Duster, and Chat Pile all took the stage through the late evening and middle of the night. But one artist that stood out was the implausible, unclassifiable Hattiesburg, Mississippi quartet MSPAINT.
MSPAINT are in some ways emblematic of the spirit of Oblivion Access, a festival that features lots of heavy and/or brooding and/or aggressive music that exists on the fringes of genre definitions. Oblivion Access’ lineup is filled with experimentalists from one corner or another, and MSPAINT’s bizarro synth-driven punk has not only led to a buzzy breakthrough with Post-American — one of this year’s best albums — but also left people scratching their heads searching for a proper summation of what exactly they are. They are sort of perfect for Oblivion Access; after their set, my colleague Tom Breihan would describe it as “elite weirdo shit.”
And indeed, MSPAINT can leave you guessing even amongst a relatively brief performance. This being the first time I’d seen MSPAINT, I went in expecting it to be rawer and wilder than the album — that Post-American’s corroded synthscapes would completely sputter into walls of distortion while the band dialed up the aggression. In fact, the opposite was true. While frontman Deedee stalks the stage with the frenzied prowl of a hardcore vocalist, and some such genre signifiers remain in MSPAINT’s music, it turns out it’s just as easy for them to sound like a vaguely intense synth-pop act. That was the case in the beginning of their set, when they charged through “Information” and “Think It Through” with fierce energy, but also a glistening clarity that was somewhat baffling.
Maybe it was intentional, a feint. As MSPAINT’s set progressed — mostly going through Post-American in sequence, unless I missed a song or two swapped around — they ratcheted up the tension. They steadily got just a bit louder, just a bit more feral. It was ironically around the slightly slower, relatively spacier tracks like “Decapitated Reality” and “Post-American” where the atmosphere in the room started to feel like a festering, distorted storm. The album’s dramatic, emotive one-two in “Titan Of Hope” and “Flowers From Concrete” became a heaving finale, howls and synths reverberating around a sweat-drenched room.
It is a punishingly hot stretch of days in Austin, and even at night it doesn’t get a whole lot better when you cram everyone into a small venue-based festival. These circumstances seemed to suit MSPAINT though, the bleary humidity of the room emphasizing the way their music sounds like screaming through some oppressive haze. Deedee was quickly soaked, evidently finding no relief from an outfit that featured one cutoff sleeve and one cutoff pant leg. He thrashed around, he roared. And yes, some people responded to the music as hardcore, getting a pit going. But just as often, there was yet another unexpected result of MSPAINT’s music: People danced.
In the context of something like Oblivion Access, MSPAINT would come across as a band semi-embraced by hardcore circles. But watching them bring these songs to life — as exhilarating and transfixing as they are on record, turned over into new lights and set against a psychedelic screen backdrop — it left you with more questions than answers. God knows where this band makes sense, but if you ever have the chance to see them, you should. It’ll leave you slack-jawed, and wondering what MSPAINT might be capable of in the future.